Photographer Ivy Vainio’s show at Indian
Museum captures images of Ojibwe tradition
An exhibition of photos of dancers at powwows from around the state for the past two years has come to the Mille Lacs Indian Museum for all attendees to admire.
At any powwow there is a sense of history, culture, and beauty that could inspire anyone to photograph the scene, but for Ivy Vainio, this is especially true.
Vainio has been going to powwows for over 30 years, and noticing the beauty of the dancers. However she has only been taking photographs at these cultural events for about five years.
Vainio began taking pictures where she worked, at the University of Wisconsin Superior, to promote and record cultural events around the campus. Unfortunately the camera belonged to the university and had to stay on campus.
A few years later her husband, Arne Vainio, seeing that she had a knack for photography, bought her a Canon Rebel of her own.
“I like to take pictures of dancers, and other traditional cultural activities like birch bark basket making, sugar bush, as well as outdoor scenes like flowers, lakes, and trees,” says Vainio “But I won’t do weddings or senior pictures, It’s just too much pressure.”
Along the way Vainio has learned more about photography, but also more about the powwows. “I have learned when it is and isn’t appropriate to have my camera out,” Vainio says, “For example, whenever you hear an eagle whistle you shouldn’t take pictures for the remainder of that song.”
“I love the feeling I get when I capture a moment of beauty. To me, getting a great shot is like falling in love for the first time.”
Vainio says that no matter how many events she attends she is always nervous beforehand. Then once she is there she sinks into the mood and concentrates on getting that great shot. She also likes to participate in the powwows by dancing in intertribal songs as well as the Veterans Honor song to honor her relatives who were active military members.
Vainio’s pictures have been displayed at numerous shows including her first show two years ago at the UW-Superior campus, as well as a Minneapolis exhibition last summer that included works from Photographers of Color from around the state. This latest show, her first solo exhibition, began at the newly opened Gimajii building in Duluth, then to the Duluth Public Library, and finally to the Mille Lacs Indian Museum.
When asked about the exhibition, Vainio said it was very important to get the dancers’ permission to use their photograph, as well as a personal narrative from the dancer on what it meant to them to dance at powwows. This is printed below the photos along with the dancer’s name and tribal affiliation.
The exhibition will stay at the museum until Aug. 18, when there will be a reception with Ivy Vainio herself at 11 a.m. All are welcome.